On this Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 photo, Richard Higgins, whose family the well water is infected by a suspected carcinogen of a Dartmouth dump site, look down on one of the many test wells installed to monitor the groundwater in Hanover, N. H. Dartmouth College said it has spent around $8.4 million cleanup of contamination where scientists dumped the corpses of laboratory animals in the 1960s and 1970s. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)
Neighbors of a Dartmouth College building, where for years the Ivy League school of mice and other small animals used in scientific experiments say, they are afraid of pollution from the site has contaminated their groundwater and they make the school not yet completely up front with them.
The site has polluted the water of at least one family, that of Richard and Debbie Higgins, who is to blame for a variety of health problems, such as rash, hair and skin loss, and dizziness. Even their dogs were not spared, they say, with a urinate blood and other vomiting.
“We are drinking of the water for a year and we had no idea, no idea,” Debbie Higgins said.
Some residents knew the half-acre plot on the college Rennie Farm was used from the years 1960 to 1978, to dump carcasses in the “tracer experiments”, in which scientists use radioactive substances to see how it went through life-systems. A nearby site also contained remains of human bodies and stillborn fetuses used in medical classes.
The obscurity of the fenced area changed in 2011, when the Dartmouth chose to clean it up, the removal of 40 tonnes of slaughtered animals, and the soil of the scores of the unlined pits that were legal at the time they were dug. That led to the discovery of hazardous waste and low level radioactive materials and, ultimately, the evidence that at least one chemical substance which is used in the animal experiments, the suspected carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane, had leaked into the groundwater.
It was initially found in 50 times the state standard of 3 parts per billion on the site and, more recently, as high as 600 parts per billion in the ground. The chemical is linked to eye, nose and throat irritation, and in a long-term exposure, liver and kidney damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 1,4-dioxane was eventually found to have migrated from the site and contaminated the Higginses’ and on the other side of the street, about 800 metres from the site — twice the state standard. They have learned in September 2015, is that their well was contaminated, and now depend on bottled water provided by Dartmouth for cooking and drinking.
The news has rattled the semi-rural area, sparking anger and fear among the dozens of homeowners who make the plume will reach their own resources and damage to their property values. Many camps Dartmouth was too slow to react as soon as the find of the contamination and is reluctant to provide full details of what’s on the site is something the college denies.
“Now, everyone is very confused and worried,” said Ellen Waitzkin, a radiologist who lives on the other side of the site. “They are trying to determine on what basis should they feel threatened or not.”
The Higginses and other residents argue that a warning about the spread of the contamination would have gone out earlier. New Hampshire environmental and Dartmouth officials said the first test showed that the levels of 1,4-dioxane were declining on the site and were projected to remain at the farm site all state officials now admit that there could have been more aggressive monitoring.
Now, Dartmouth is working to regain the trust of Higgins and the other residents. He apologized in September for the handling of the case, located in a neighborhood advisory panel and sampled 110 drinking wells in the area; no others have tested positive. It also provided 20 households with bottled water.
It is also the finishing of the construction of a system at the landfill to capture and the cleaning of the polluted water. When it starts working in January, wells will draw contaminated groundwater into the system and filter. The purified water is then returned to the ground, a process that can take several years.
“We are committed to protecting the health of our neighbors, addressing their problems and communicate openly and regularly with them about the project,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said of the cleanup, which so far has cost $8.4 million.
But for the Higginses and their dependents, the college still does not go far enough. Some want to have more soil removed, while others want Dartmouth to offer compensation for the deterioration of the values of the property requirements the college says that it is for seen.
The Higginses say that their health problems have mostly disappeared since they switched to a bottle of water. But they call that a short-term solution and wants the college to move them to a new home a safe distance from the place of the infection.
“We want to be the whole, if there is such a thing,” Richard Higgins said. “We want to go on with our lives. Now, our life is in limbo.”